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Understanding the Role of the Cinematographer

The title “Cinematographer” is probably familiar to most people, regardless of their level of familiarity with film and production terminology. While many are aware of the title, most folks who are not associated with the film industry may have an inaccurate or incomplete understanding of exactly what it is that a cinematographer’s job is within the realm of filmmaking. It is likely that there are also other individuals who are new to film production, or maybe work in different areas of the industry that may wonder “what does a cinematographer do?” The term is associated with the cinematic aspect of films, so most are aware that the role has to do with the visual elements they are watching on screen, but do they know all that goes into the role of a cinematographer? Audiences today have grown up watching an abundance of great motion pictures and various other types of visual storytelling with amazing cinematography, so creating video content that not only looks great but is intentional in its aesthetic is vital. Viewers have become knowledgeable critics due to the amount of content that is available for consumption, whether it be movies, television shows, YouTube videos, or, now, even TikToks, so a great cinematographer will not only help tell your story with greater intention but will also satisfy the desire of your audience to watch something they can appreciate.

The Role of the Cinematographer

The Cinematographer, also known as the Director of Photography (DP), is in charge of the camera department. This means the cinematographer, in congruence with the director’s needs, makes the final decision on the type of camera and camera equipment the project uses, lens choice, camera angles and thus camera placement, and the general technical aspects of the film set that facilitate the overall look of the visual style that the director is looking to achieve. They also work with the film director when planning the production as well as during filming. A good cinematographer ensures the director’s creative vision is met by suggesting ways to light and capture scenes from an in-depth point of view, such as making the decision of whether an extreme close-up or a normal close-up shot will more accurately convey the message of the director’s vision. The camera department is then directed by the cinematographer on how to execute this vision throughout the production process. This department is also selected by the cinematographer, which will be comprised of a variety of different camera crew members such as a first assistant cameraman, or 1st AC, a 2nd AC, and further.

The Cinematographer and Director

As mentioned earlier in this blog, the cinematographer works closely with the director to achieve the look and feel that the director is trying to accomplish. The director explains the looks and tone they are trying to convey to their audience, and the cinematographer uses their specific knowledge not only to fulfill this vision but also to offer creative suggestions. Depending on the director, this process can be very collaborative, especially when the director and the cinematographer have worked together on previous creative video productions.

Pre-Production Duties

The cinematographer’s job begins prior to the actual production, as they are responsible for ensuring that the camera department is prepared for the shoot as well as making sure the logistics are feasible. It is often the obligation of the cinematographer to create the shot list based on the script since they will oversee the camera department on set. In order to prepare the shot list, the cinematographer will typically make a storyboard for or with the director to make sure their visions align, and to prevent any surprises on set. Once the storyboards are complete, and the cinematographer is creating the shot list, they will also begin to account for the necessary camera and lighting gear required for each shot. It is the decision of the cinematographer which cameras and lenses will be used as long as they maintain their budget. Another pre-production duty of the cinematographer is to either approve the locations or do the actual location scout themselves. This can vary from production to production depending on budget, crew, how many locations are needed, and how much travel is involved. Some cinematographers enjoy the control and responsibility of seeking the locations themselves, as it helps to inspire their vision.

Production Duties

Once the production is underway the cinematographer is no less important, however, their tasks are now different. The cinematographer is responsible for overseeing the camera department as well as the gaffer and lighting. The cinematographer works closely with these teams as different challenges arise to make sure the director is happy with the outcome and remains on schedule as well. Some cinematographers will oversee a camera operator, and explain to them exactly how they want the framing and camera movement, but many others will take over the camera operating duties themselves to get the exact shot they are picturing.

Post-Production Duties

Once the post team begins editing the footage, the cinematographer can assist with feedback, and explain exactly what they were going for on set. This bridges the gap in communication from production to post-production and ensures that the integrity of what was intended on set is maintained all the way through to the final product.

A Team with A Vision

To be a cinematographer, one must have a knack for creative vision. At 7 Wonders Cinema, we are a team of people with creative visions and the ability to see them through. There is nothing we love more than helping others watch their creative dreams come true through creative video storytelling. If you are interested in hiring an experienced video production company to give you the product you have been looking for, look no further. Reach out to us through our website or phone!

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